November 06, 2012

It will be a return to the scene of sublime glory for Jon Jones, a reminder of a simpler time. Back in March 2011 -- a mere 20 months ago -- he was a different fighter, a different man. That night in Newark, N.J., at the moment when the UFC light heavyweight belt first was wrapped around his waist, "Bones" was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the logo of an energy drink, as do so many mixed martial artists. Now he has graduated, no, been elevated to a Nike swoosh, a look reserved for transcendent stars such as Bo, Michael, Tiger, LeBron and the like.

Of course, with unprecedented success comes unforeseen baggage. There's the resentfulness of those who once built you up and now want to tear you down. There are the self-inflicted character wounds of a young man whose athletic growth has come before he's a fully formed adult (if there even is such a thing). So much will be different when Jones comes full circle back to the Prudential Center, which the UFC announced Monday will be the venue for his April 27 title defense against Chael Sonnen, his opposing coach on the next season of The Ultimate Fighter.

Jones' fifth defense of the belt will headline a card that has not yet been assigned a number but is expected to be a pay-per-view event. The main event matchup has been much criticized in this space and by fans and media everywhere for featuring a challenger who hasn't fought in the weight class in seven years. Sonnen was given the shot, UFC president Dana White has acknowledged, because he was the one fighter willing to step up and face Jones after Dan Henderson pulled out injured a mere eight days prior to a Sept. 1 title bout. Jones declined to take the replacement fight, however, and UFC 151 was canceled.

Upon his return to Jersey, will Jones revisit the ethos of being a guy who'll fight on short notice? No, I'm not referring to the fact that he took the title shot against Mauricio Rua on six weeks' training. I'm talking about the surreal scene that unfolded on the morning of the fight in a nearby park, where Jones and his coaches had gone to meditate but ended up subduing a petty criminal who happened to choose the worst possible time to steal a woman's bag.

Might the mischievous Sonnen enlist one of his buddies to create havoc somewhere in Newark next April in hopes of distracting Jones into reverting to his old Superman act? Nah, that would be as absurd as a challenger parading around with a championship belt slung over his shoulder.

The UFC was busy with the announcements Monday, also setting the dates (and one venue) for its four 2013 events on Fox.

The first will be Jan. 26 at the United Center in Chicago. No fights were made official, although reported that a lightweight bout between Donald Cerrone and Anthony Pettis will take place that night. Chicago makes sense for Pettis, who is from just up the road in Milwaukee.

The other Fox network events will be April 20, July 27 and Dec. 14. No sites were announced.

Obrigado is the only word of Portuguese I know. (It means "thank you," in case you're even less fluent than I.) And because I'm basically a monolingual dinosaur I missed the UFC's announcement that the rumored matchup between Vitor Belfort and Michael Bisping is now official: It was first published Friday at the fight promotion's Brazilian website.

But caught up to the news on Monday, listing the fight in a tally of upcoming Fox-related events. Belfort and Bisping will go at it Jan. 19 in the main event of a UFC on FX card in Rio de Janeiro.

The other event announced: a UFC on Fuel TV card will take place Feb. 16 at a location to be determined -- although the promotion did specify that it will be an "international event."

Once we learn where that card will take place, I'll start to brush up on the native tongue.

Early shift: I've never been much of a tennis fan, but I always used to love the "Breakfast at Wimbledon" telecasts on NBC, even if it was hard to deal with Bud Collins' loud attire so soon after waking up. Well, this weekend MMA fans get treated to Breakfast from China, as the UFC on Fuel TV telecast from Cotai Strip, Macau, will begin at 9 a.m. ET. So set the alarm, get some dim sum and settle down for the Cung Le vs. Rich Franklin main event.

Cultural misidentity?: I read a provocative perspective on the Macau event written by an MMA fan of Chinese heritage, who accuses the UFC of cultural insensitivity in filling the card with fighters from all over Asia but only one from China. "Given the acrimonious history between China and Japan," opines this fan, "expecting Chinese fans to cheer for Japanese fighters simply because they're Asian is nothing short of insulting. You'd almost be better off choosing a fighter of any nationality but Japan. It's an amazing bit of ignorance on Zuffa's part."

My take: The UFC might be guilty as charged -- it's not uncommon for us Americans to lump every Asian or African, though interestingly not every European, into one big pile of "them" -- or the promotion might simply be trying to entice fans from Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and other parts of the region to make the trek to Macau, which itself has a tenuous cultural connection to the rest of China. Either way, it was a thought-provoking read, and I tend to err on the side of those who better understand the culture.

Looking backward and forward: With the cancellation of the Strikeforce event that was to be Daniel Cormier's final showcase before joining the UFC, this past weekend instead put the spotlight on several smaller fight cards, the two most notable of which were Bellator 79 and the inaugural World Series of Fighting event.

My takeaway from Friday night's Bellator fights was that the UFC heavyweight division has nothing to worry about. In the main event, a semifinal of the promotion's heavyweight tournament, Thiago Silva entered the cage with the nickname "Big Monster," but I saw scarier monsters two days earlier when I answered my door and handed out Halloween candy. Silva started strong but quickly faded like a kid on a sugar high, as Rich Hale weathered the early storm and advanced via TKO.

As for Saturday night's WSOF premiere, let's stick with the childhood theme and simply say it was akin to a toddler's first step. Andrei Arlovski's KO of Devin Cole in a mismatch main event capped an evening in which the new promotion didn't fall on its face but didn't exactly dance with the stars, either. Maybe next time we'll get a steadier dose of competitive fighting, like what we saw in young kick boxer Marlon Moraes' split-decision win over aging former WEC champ Miguel Torres.

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